Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sauce for the Gander?

When Father Mark Lawrence was elected (by an overwhelming majority on the first ballot) Bishop of South Carolina more than ten months ago, the required consents from Bishops and Standing Committees were abnormally slow in coming, for a number of reasons that are already familiar to most readers of this blog. When the deadline approached this past March, a concerted effort was made to push him over the top.

By all accounts, the effort was successful, albeit narrowly. However, the Presiding Bishop--into whose court balls of this sort are eventually thrown--determined that some of the Standing Committee consents were defective in form. Substantively, then, Fr Lawrence received the requisite number of consents. Technically, he did not. Bishop Jefferts Schori chose to be a strict constructionist in this case, abiding by the letter of the canonical law. She declared the South Carolina election null and void, allowing the technical to trump the substantive. South Carolina has been forced to call a new electing convention, in which the only nominee is, to no one's surprise, Mark Lawrence.

This decision was within her prerogative, and is not inherently questionable. Not technically, at any rate. I tend to be a strict constructionist sort of guy myself. Rules, after all, exist for a reason, and in the absence of compelling moral exigency to the contrary, they should be kept.

But they should be kept consistently, not applied selectively. With the permission of the Diocese of San Joaquin's Standing Committee (of which I am no longer a member), I am sharing here a letter from them to the Presiding Bishop expressing concern about apparent selective application of the canons with respect to the election of bishops--in particular, the election of the now-consecrated Bishop Coadjutor of Virginia, Shannon Johnston:

Standing Committee
Diocese of San Joaquin

4159 E. Dakota Ave.
Fresno, CA 93726-5227


Third RequestJuly 20, 2007

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church
815 Second Avenue
New York, New York 10017


Dear Presiding Bishop:

Please review our correspondence sent to you, your Chancellor, and the Diocese of Virginia on May 31 and June 18 regarding consent to the ordination and Consecration of The Very Rev. Shannon S. Johnston as Bishop Coadjutor for the Diocese of Virginia. The matter of the Diocese of Virginia using a defective testimonial is of grave concern. We asked you in writing, within the 120 days from the date of notification of election, to confirm that a properly worded consent form was returned by a majority of Standing Committees. Now it is 6 weeks past our original letter to you and there has not been a response from either you, your Chancellor [David Booth Beers] or the Diocese of Virginia. Your failure to even acknowledge our written concerns leads us to believe the testimonials used by the Standing Committees did not conform to the requirements of Canon III.11.4.b. [printed here]

(b) Evidence of the consent of each Standing Committee shall be a testimonial in the following words, signed by a majority of all the members of the Committee:

We, being a majority of all the members of the Standing Committee of ______________, and having been duly convened at ______________, fully sensible how important it is that the Sacred Order and Office of a Bishop should not be unworthily conferred, and firmly persuaded that it is our duty to bear testimony on this solemn occasion without partiality, do, in the presence of Almighty God, testify that we know of no impediment on account of which the Reverend A.B. ought not to be ordained to that Holy Order. In witness whereof, we have hereunto set our hands this _____ day of _________in the year of our Lord _________.

(Signed) _______________

The testimonial from Virginia reads:

Having been duly elected on January 26, 2007, at the Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia.

We, being a majority of all the ____ members of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of ____, having been duly convened at ____, give our consent to the ordination and consecration of the Very Rev. Shannon S. Johnston as Bishop Coadjutor for the Diocese of Virginia.

In witness whereof, we have here unto set our hands this ___ day of ___, 2007.

As you can see the Diocese of Virginia form for Standing Committee testimonial is defective on many counts. Since Canon III.11.4.b is crystal clear that the only evidence of consent is a testimonial in the canonical words, the Virginia documents do not constitute evidence of consent.

How did you “proceed to take order for the ordination” without evidence of consent from the Standing Committees? If you do something that is not canonically permissible, isn’t that a violation of the canons? Should you not have declared the election null & void as required in III.11.5? If you fail to do something that is canonically required, isn’t that a violation of the canons? I believe you are familiar with the requirements of both canons III.11.4.b and III.11.5 as you used both to declare null & void the recent election in South Carolina.

Without your confirmation of receipt of proper consents, we have a very uneasy situation. First we have what appears to be your unequal application of the same canon in two separate cases within months of each other. Second we potentially have the irregular consecration of Bishop Johnston [without consents from Standing Committees], calling into question his Episcopal acts. Third we may have before us a Canon IV.1.c liability on your part for violation of the Constitution and Canons of the General Convention. Since you are the person to inform the review committee if there is sufficient reason to believe that a Bishop has committed an Offense [IV.3.23.b], how do you suggest others can clarify the conflicted situation within the Church?

We began this inquiry within the 120 days from notification of election of Bishop Johnston. We ask again Presiding Bishop, David Booth Beers, & the Diocese of Virginia, for the third time, to confirm the canonically required consents, in the words as required by canon, were received prior to consecration of Bishop Johnston. Failing to make such confirmation, please advise as to what steps can be taken to have these matters forwarded to the Review Committee and resolved.

Because we have not had a response from our two prior, private, requests, we feel compelled to involve a wider audience in our concerns. The Standing Committee of San Joaquin is hopeful your written reply will appear soon.

In Christ,



Third Request


Jim Snell

President of the Standing Committee

Diocese of San Joaquin

cc: David Booth Beers

Diocese of Virginia Standing Committee

It is my hope that someone will suggest a plausible benign construction of the Presiding Bishop's decision to enforce canon law strictly in one case and generously in another. This is what I want to see.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Rock...meet hard place. I too pray there is a reasonable explanation. However if there was one, most normal people would have given it out after only one letter. Unless there is such disrespect for the diocese of San Joaquin or an attempt to come up with a fix. Why would the PB { & Booth Beers and Dio Virginia] want to hide the evidence that proves the correct consents were received? What a mess. Do they now have to re elect & obtain new consents for Bishop Johnston? If he didn't have consents is he able to be recognized in TEC as a Bishop? What a mess.

Karen said...

Thank you Fr. Dan for sharing this. And thanks to the Diocese of SJ's standing committee for being willing to take a stand and shine the light on this and call for transparency and truth.

berggasse19 said...

WHOA.

While I consider myself a fairly strict constructionist in these matters of protocol (I like my i's dotted and t's crossed), I think that the issue here is quite a bit different from that which was at hand in South Carolina. If I remember correctly, the real problem with the documents in SC was that, in several cases, an original document signed by all the members of the various Standing Committees was not presented. In this case, it would not be possible to establish that the members of the Standing Committee had rightly and duly given their consent. Therefore, it would not be possible to establish that consent had indeed been given. That is quite a different thing from the Virginia document, which omits some wording. The important thing is that the DOCUMENT is produced, bearing the appropriate signatures, thereby testifying that all the members of the various Standing Committees did indeed give their consent to the consecration.

Let's not forget, shall we, that canon law WAS bent in order to give SC a few extra days to get in all of the consents that were lacking (and they still weren't able to get it together). So, if canon law dictating deadlines can be bent in that case (for the "conservatives"), then I think it can be bent in regard to wording (for the so-called "liberals").

Nevertheless, I think the issue should be addressed, if only to satisfy those who simply want to cause trouble and divert attention to themselves.

Interesting, isn't it, that San Joaquin is asking for the letter of the law to be enforced while they have already committed a brazen canonical crime that is not at all based upon small technicalities. Two-faced, eh?

Rick Arllen said...

I am shocked! Shocked! To think that the first response from the 'worthy opponents' served up by be.....19 would be filet of red herring. Hey, when you can't deal with the real question, provide an answer to a non-question you can deal with.

ruidh said...

What complete nonsense. The problem with the Lawrence consents was that THEY WERE'T SIGNED. They were emailed text and not something bearing a signature.

Lionel said...

I do not see a scandal here, but the standing committee raises legitimate questions that ought to be addressed. You can read my analysis and my suggestions as to what the Presiding Bishop should do here.

RFSJ said...

Fr. Dan,

This is important and unfortunate. I think Lionel's advice (above) is probably the best that can be done. In this case, what's sauce for the goose *does* seem to apply here.

RFSJ

Tom Sramek, Jr. said...

All: epiScope has a posting responding to the situation. As Jan Nunley (editor) and folks who have commented above have pointed out, it is the signatures on a form giving consent that is the challenge, not the wording. The other issue is, frankly, that the number of consents were so close to the required number in South Carolina that irregularities like e-mailed notices of consent dropped the number below the threshold. I suspect that would not be the case in Virginia.

Lionel said...

Thanks to Tom for pointing out the rather surprising information reported by the Rev. Jan Nunley. If, as she suggests, dioceses have, for ten years, been using a wording on the consent form that differs from the canonical wording, responsibility for that must rest in the Office of the Presiding Bishop, though obviously not with the current Presiding Bishop herself. I’m sure that office has been advising dioceses regarding how to request consents. As I suggested, there is no real scandal here, but there does seem to be some administrative sloppiness that needs to be cleaned up.

I continue to believe, as I suggested in my post, that there is a substantive difference in the two wordings. In the canonical version, standing committee members consent, based on knowing no impediment to consecration. In the shorter version, they merely consent, though on who knows what basis.

Rick Arllen said...

Lionel, tell me you don't see just the tiniest inconsistency as expressed in the actions of 815 in the rigorous vs. lax application of the canon depending on the perspective of the bishop-to-be.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

I can see no inconsistency here.

Both dioceses have been using a shortened form of the canonical wording, omitting the "don't know of any impediment" part.

Personally I think it should be included.

Diocese 1 did not recieve enough signed consents. Not even prolonging the period.

Diocese 2 did.

Thus not "inconsistent", because different circumstanced, not the same.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

And if the omitting the "don't see any impediment" part has been done for a decade I can see no real chance of it getting corrected.

And if it does get corrected,
it wont't affect the "legality"
of past (incorrect) consents.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

So your query is false:

“It is my hope that someone will suggest a plausible benign construction of the Presiding Bishop's decision to enforce canon law strictly in one case and generously in another. This is what I want to see.”

There is no need of a “plausible benign construction”.

There has been no “… Presiding Bishop's decision to enforce canon law strictly in one case and generously in another”.

Suggesting that there has – as you do – is false witness.

Anonymous said...

Göran Koch-Swahne,

What on earth are you talking about? Apparently, the diocese of Virginia sent out the wrong form to the Standing Committees . . . a form whose words were in VIOLATION of the canons.

Every single "consent" sent back was not valid. They were all in violation of the canons. Thus no valid consents were received.

The truth is, that apparently some of the consents to the election of the bishop of South Carolina were in blatant violation of the canons, and thus invalid. . . . And apparently ALL of the consents to the election of the bishop of Virginia were in blatant violation of the canons and thus invalid.

Thing is . . . Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori chose NOT to invalidate the election of the bishop of Virginia, despite the blatant violation of the canons. And Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori chose to invalidate the election of the bishop of South Carolina, based on the blatant violation of the canons.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Again, the consents in the SC case were not “signed by a constitutional majority”.

That is what counts.

The difference in form (“short” versus “long”) probably is moot after a decade of "short" forms.

But I most willingly grant you that “don’t know of any impediment” is not “give out consent”.

Which on the other hand very probably is why it was changed ;=)

Also, if there has been any preferential treatment in these two cases, it’s for South Carolina (the prolonging of the period of consents) not for Virginia.

This is pretence playing the "victim" of the "establishment".

We should all have learnt to regognize that one, by now.

Anonymous said...

RE: "That is what counts.

The difference in form (“short” versus “long”) probably is moot after a decade of "short" forms."

No, Goran Koch-Swahne, that is not "what counts" -- what counts is that it was a VIOLATION OF THE CANONS. It is not "moot" to have VIOLATIONS OF THE CANONS.

In fact, let me quote our beloved Presiding Bishop who had this to say about bishop consents and VIOLATIONS OF THE CANONS:

""In the past, when consents to episcopal elections have been so closely contested, the diocese has been diligent in seeking to have canonically adequate ballots submitted, asking Standing Committees to resubmit their ballots when necessary," she added. "It is certainly my hope that in future any diocese seeking consent to an election will use all possible effort to ensure that ballots are received in an appropriate form and in a timely manner."

Sarah

Karen said...

For the record, after some pressure, Jan Nunley has corrected her original post to retract the incorrect information that South Carolina used the uncanonical "short form."

http://episcopalchurch.typepad.com/episcope/2007/07/and-another-thi.html#comments

The Living Church has more
http://www.livingchurch.org/publishertlc/viewarticle.asp?ID=3517

Lionel said...

The fact that we're even having this conversation is an argument for strict adherence to our church rules. I freely admit that TEC has screwed up here, but I think the underlying problem is not favoritism, but simple laziness. The statement by Canon Gerdau that “no one has ever objected to it [use of the un-canonical wording] before” is incredible. Was he simply saving keystrokes? Who knows?

Let’s not get too high and mighty about this, however. There are too many minor rules that, in principle, can get someone presented. Did you know that you could be presented for disobeying the rubrics of the prayer book? What priest hasn’t been guilty of that? Remember the old saw that any good district attorney can indict a ham sandwich!

All this is to say that we should be as conscientious as possible about obeying the constitution and canons, but we should also recognize that discipline is not always the answer to minor infractions committed inadvertently or with the best of intentions.

Much good can come out of this affair, and I hope that the Presiding Bishop will insist on a humbler attitude toward the canons at 815.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Sarah,

The violation of a canon does not in fact matter if the thing has been going on for a decade.

Even if it causes you to use capital letters.

There will be people who have accepted decisions in good faith, and so on... This makes the faulty/defect decision stand in most legal systems (the small matter of “intentio”, you know).

"Moot" is the proper word.

If (as here) 2 different wordings have been used simultaneously, one will (probably, but not necessarily) have to fall.

But let me suggest that the preference will be for the short form…

Sloppiness to be sure! But no one who has seen a few Diocesan bureaucracies at close range can marvel; sloppiness = routine.

Yet, remember the accusation here is not sloppiness but malicious intent.

Never ascribe to malice, what may be sufficiently explained by sloppiness!

Still unknown: Who? When? Why? How many times compared to the correct form?

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

""In the past, when consents to episcopal elections have been so closely contested, the diocese has been diligent in seeking to have canonically adequate ballots submitted, asking Standing Committees to resubmit their ballots when necessary," she added. "It is certainly my hope that in future any diocese seeking consent to an election will use all possible effort to ensure that ballots are received in an appropriate form and in a timely manner."

Let's hope.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Apart from the apparent sloppiness (and remember, people in the Church are amateurs, not professionals…), the two cases are un-related.

Diocese 1 did not receive enough signed consents. Not even prolonging the period. Nil.

Diocese 2 did receive Consent, however un-canonical in form.
“Form” is secondary.

“Form” does not trump “matter”. Nor is every “violation” a VIOLATION, indeed every violation does not carry the same weight.

The “matter” of consent is primary.

If there are no signatures, no consents can be established. Simple as that.

Nor did the “short” vs “long” muddle start yesteryear over the SC case, but years ago.

To my mind this speaks strongly against the “malicious intent” interpretation…

The SC and V muddles are unrelated. There is no case; there is nothing to see. Claiming there is – as is currently done all over Titus-one-nine and Stand Firm and other blogs – is indeed malicious.

Amateurish sloppiness versus The Evil Eye. An un-even battle to be sure…

Anonymous said...

WWJD? What are we here for?